• Interviews

Jonás Cuarón: Steven Spielberg’s Cinema Had a Lot to Do With “Chupa”

In 2013, Jonás Cuarón experienced one of the most important moments in his career as a screenwriter.

The film Gravity, which he wrote with his father, Alfonso Cuarón, earned four Golden Globe nominations and won for best director (Alfonso), and received other awards, including seven Oscars.

From there, Jonas’ career took a new direction as he also became a director and producer of his own films. Desierto (2015), Aningaaq (2013) and Año Uña (2007) are just a few samples of his filmography.

This April, the movie Chupa, starring Demián Bichir and Christian Slater, under the direction of Jonás, premieres on the Netflix platform. It is the story of three children who, in a small city in Mexico, have an encounter with a magical creature that turns out to be the mythical monster known as the Chupacabra.

In an interview via Zoom with Jonás, who lives in New York, talked to us about this film, his influences, famous father and why Steven Spielberg has a lot to do with this production.

How did the idea of making Chupa come about?

The truth is, in a project that I did for my children during the pandemic, we spent a lot of time watching movies as a family and many were what I saw in my childhood, films like E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982) and Gremlins (1984).

After having made films like Gravity or Desierto, which were action thrillers, I was very excited by the idea of making a film that I could share with my children, a film that had the same magic as the aforementioned films.

When this project arrived, I was excited for several reasons: one, because it brings the essence of those films, in this case, a boy who meets a magical creature, but it turns out to be the Chupacabra, a myth that marked my childhood.

It is about a figure that emerged in Puerto Rico and spread throughout Latin America in the 90s when I was little. You would hear news about the Chupacabras all the time and that was very exciting because as a child, it gave you that feeling that there was something magical outside your house.

I knew that I could make a movie like E.T., that would take place in a context that was very mine, that of Mexico in the 90s. I was also very excited to know that Chris Columbus was coming as a producer because many of those movies that I saw in my childhood like Home Alone (1990), Gremlins (1994) and The Goonies (1995) were movies he worked on.

You also turned the Chupacabra into something that wasn’t bloody.

Yeah, that was something that really appealed to me since I got the script. This feeling that when the myth arose, it was always a horror story, and the script gave me the possibility of turning the story around and telling it as one of adventures, of family. It made me feel very fatherly. Also, in Chupa, the creature you meet is a baby creature, someone helpless.

How did your childhood memories figure in the film?

The Chupacabra is a myth of my generation. In that sense, I was lucky that the production team had many people who were from my generation and Mexico. In that sense, it was a very cool project and we were able to fill the film with symbols of our childhood.

How much did your life change after the success of Gravity?

Definitely having been able to work with my dad opened many doors for me. It was a great learning experience. I learned a lot from script work and film development.

Before Gravity, I learned a lot from my father. From childhood, I acquired a passion for movies and in that sense, something that gives life to Chupa is that in the process of making the movie, I watched E.T. The Extraterrestrial again. That film is a very strong reference in this film and arises from my admiration of Spielberg’s film language. I admire his cinema.

How was it working with Demián Bichir and Christian Slater?

For me, Chupa was a nostalgia trip that takes place in the 90s. One of the cars that appears in the film was one of the cars from my childhood. All the toys that children have were mine. My friends had Game Boy music.

But beyond that, I was lucky that I ended up with actors who were icons of my childhood. Christian Slater made a lot of movies in the ’90s and I grew up admiring Demián Bichir all my life. When he joined the project, I was happy because I knew that he was going to give his character the complexity that the role required.


Who are your influences as a director?

There are many but in this project, the most obvious is Spielberg, both in the narrative language but above all, in the film language. The photographer and I were watching E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park, constantly trying to understand how Spielberg manages to convey that magic, that emotion, in his films.

Is carrying the Cuarón surname a pressure or an incentive?

It is a surname that has opened many doors for me and has also been a great learning experience. My dad is a great mentor. I have learned a lot from him and after Gravity, I have tried to use what I learned and make it on my own as a director.

Some directors say they don’t like working with animals or children.

I have had the completely opposite experience. For example, in Chupa, the Chupacabra was a dog. The actor was interacting with a dog on set. Working with dogs, as long as they are trained, and children has been one of my easiest experiences.

How do you see the change in Hollywood about how Hispanics are viewed?

Something that excited me a lot about Chupa, being a big movie for children, which is a very large audience in Mexico, is that it allows me to be honest and tell a Mexican reality. We are at a time when platforms and cinema are allowing us to tell more genuine stories from where we come from. It is important to take those opportunities and push for more.

How do you celebrate the success of the three friends (Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro)?

Thanks to their success, the studios are open to tell those kinds of stories. They have opened the doors a lot, something that is demonstrated from the success of their films to the success of Parasite. The industry is finally realizing that it’s not just stories that take place in the United States that attract audiences.

What would you tell the public to expect from Chupa?

It is a film that narrates the importance of family, that the family is always there for you and the one that carries the narrative of who you are and where you come from. It’s a movie that’s going to fill audiences with that sense of the importance of family.

Other than that, it was a great job we did designing the creature, and above all, I hope that children audiences come away with that very direct connection to the creature.

What’s next in your career?

I am developing projects. I hope at some point to be able to work with children again because I really enjoyed this filming. Working on set with Evan (Whitten), Nico (Verdugo) and Ashley (Ciarra) (in Chupa) was great because something I realized, apart from the fact that they are great actors, is that they are children and they like to imagine and play. Those are basic tools for an actor and in that sense, I hope to make a children’s film again.

Translated by Mario Amaya